People in Baton Rouge, LA Seeks Home Confinement Due to Coronavirus
In the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison, 70 people tested positive for the novel coronavirus as of late May, according to the sheriff’s office. In response, people filed a class-action lawsuit to protect themselves and future prisoners from the disease.
The peoples’ attorneys, including David Utter of the Fair Fight Initiative, claim that prison conditions are unacceptable, and medical care is inadequate. Wings of the jail that were closed previously are now being used to house people who test positive for the virus, but those wings are in terrible shape – neglected, dirty, and rat-infested.
Utter argued, “Baton Rouge’s leaders have known for years that the jail is unsafe for our community. The notion that we would expose anyone to the jail’s conditions and health care system during this pandemic makes no sense.”
The suit seeks home confinement for nonviolent offenders as the virus continues to spread through the prison population. It also calls for improved conditions, better sanitation, and adequate safety precautions, including appropriate masks and gloves for the staff.
One of the plaintiffs in the suit is Clifton Belton, who is serving time for theft of two bottles of liquor. Belton has been detained at the jail since his arrest in December 2018. He pleaded guilty in February 2019 and was sentenced to six months. Due to pending charges from other parishes, he continues to be held at the prison.
Belton is wheelchair-bound due to a lung condition and partial loss of his foot. He suffers from high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease – all conditions that put him at high risk for contracting COVID-19.
In an April 30th letter accompanying the suit, Belton described his fears, “My underlying health problems could really mean a death sentence for me if I’m exposed to the coronavirus. I have broken the law, but I’m a nonviolent offender. … Why is the system putting my life on the line for some nonviolent offenses?”
Sadly, Belton has since tested positive for COVID-19.
Officials from the sheriff’s office responded that they are increasing safety measures and distributing soap and masks. They argue that they cannot control whether people get released. Now, it’s in the hands of the courts to decide if these offenders should continue to face such excessive risk for nonviolent crimes.